Bringing agencies together to deliver a seamless service to the customer has wide support, but it is only happening slowly. A report by The Society of IT Managers in Local Government for the Association of Directors of Social Services explains some of the reasons for the slow progress and holds little hope of a quick result.The research by SOCITM was designed to find out how hospitals, primary care trusts and other health services, could best share information with social, housing and education services in local government. A need was also found to link to the police and criminal justice networks. The case for information sharing is that it is essential for providing a more consistent response to needs, it gives better relationship management and supports a more effective service with faster service delivery. The priority need for unified information is for assessing the needs of the elderly who require a combined health and social care programme, and for identifying children that are risk of being abused.
The report reveals that much effort is being put into providing information links, but many different approaches are being used with little co-ordination. A major obstacle to connecting groups who provide services to the same person is that the NHS is a centrally controlled organization with uniform IT standards and procedures, while local authorities are independent and set their own standards. The challenge of joining up systems is therefore different for every local authority. Connecting systems is also much more than a technical issue because the related manual processes are also involved.
The report recommends that local authorities should adopt NHS standards and have long term plans to move to these standards. It warns against limiting connection between social services and the NHS, because this could cut off social services from the remainder of the authority. It proposes that a pilot connection initiative should be launched for the London area, where all the agencies are geographically close together.